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Excitatory and inhibitory conditioning: how they work, and examples

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Excitatory and inhibitory conditioning are two very relevant phenomena within the theory of classical or Pavlovian conditioning. The excitatory would be one that occurs when a conditioned stimulus causes a response similar to the unconditioned response that had caused the unconditioned stimulus.

On the other hand, the inhibitory would be the one that occurs when a conditioned stimulus, when conditioning occurs, acquires the antagonistic or opposite properties with respect to those that a conditioned stimulus acquires in a conditioning excitatory.

In this article we will see what excitatory and inhibitory conditioning consists of and for this we will use some examples that provide readers with a better understanding of both phenomena.

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Basic concepts of classical or Pavlovian conditioning

Before proceeding to explain the excitatory and inhibitory conditioning, we consider it convenient to give a few small brushstrokes about some concepts that are essential to understand the theory of classical conditioning, in order to better understand the key concepts that are intended to be explained in the present article.

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1. Unconditioned stimulus (US)

An unconditioned stimulus is a stimulus that possesses sufficient intensity or quality to elicit a response in an organism, without the need for him to have previous experience to produce said response.

2. Unconditioned response (IR)

An unconditioned response would be that type of response by an organism that triggered by the appearance of an unconditioned stimulus.

3. Neutral stimulus (EN)

A neutral stimulus would be that stimulus that does not cause any effect on the organism and its behavior, so it does not produce any response to the appearance of a stimulus of this type.

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4. Conditioned stimulus (CS)

A conditioned stimulus would be that type of stimulus arisen as a result of the association between an unconditioned stimulus and a neutral stimulus. In this case, the neutral stimulus acquires the properties of the unconditioned stimulus, thus becoming a conditioned stimulus and will be able to provoke in an organism a response similar to the unconditioned response, and in this case it would be known as the response conditioned.

5. Conditioned response (CR)

Finally, the conditioned response would be that response that the conditioned stimulus is capable of eliciting in an organism once the association has occurred, previously mentioned, between the neutral stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus.

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What is excitatory and inhibitory conditioning?

Once we have seen the basic concepts of classical or Pavlovian conditioning, we will proceed to explain what excitatory and inhibitory conditioning are about.

Excitatory conditioning would be that which occurs when a conditioned stimulus provokes a response similar to the unconditioned response that had provoked the unconditioned stimulus; while inhibitory conditioning would occur when a conditioned stimulus, when conditioning occurs, reaches acquire the antagonistic or opposite properties with respect to those that a conditioned stimulus would acquire in a conditioning excitatory.

excitatory conditioning

In behavioral psychology or behaviorism, excitatory conditioning occurs at the moment when a conditioned stimulus elicits a conditioned response, similar to the unconditioned response elicited by the unconditioned stimulus. What is the same, excitatory conditioning is capable of activating conditioned responses in a organism, so this would be the most common type of conditioning and also the simplest of Apply.

This phenomenon of excitatory conditioning, in which a conditioned stimulus is capable of causing a response conditioned response similar to the response caused by an unconditioned stimulus, due to the association between stimuli. At first, the conditioned stimulus appears because of the association between an unconditioned stimulus and a neutral one, through which the neutral stimulus had acquired properties of the unconditioned stimulus, so that it had thus become a stimulus conditioned.

Examples of Excitatory and Inhibitory Conditioning
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Examples of excitatory conditioning

The best-known example of excitatory conditioning would be the experiment carried out by the Russian physiologist Ivan Petrovich Pavlov with some dogs.. In this experiment, he was able to observe at the end of it that the dogs secreted saliva at the moment of hearing the sound of a bell (EN previously; then EC), which had previously been associated with food (EI).

Although previously the bell (EN) was not capable of causing this salivation in dogs, when presented in repeatedly together with food (EI), which was capable of generating salivation in these animals, after several essays, the dogs began to salivate with only the sound of the bell (EC), without the food being present.

An everyday example in which this phenomenon known as excitatory confinement could occur, the one that occurs when we feel discomfort when thinking about a food because some time ago we had felt bad at the stomach level after having eaten it, even if it was not because it was in poor condition, since it could be because we were intolerant to said food or even because that day we had eaten too many amounts. Therefore, this phenomenon of excitatory conditioning will cause us to want to eat that food again.

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inhibitory conditioning

Inhibitory conditioning is that which occurs when a conditioned stimulus, upon conditioning, comes to acquire the antagonistic or opposite properties with respect to those that a conditioned stimulus acquires in an excitatory conditioning.

Thus, in inhibitory conditioning, a conditioned stimulus becomes inhibitory when it has been paired with the absence of an unconditioned stimulus during the process of excitatory conditioning normal. Because of this phenomenon, the stimulus produces a type of reaction opposite to that of an excitatory conditioned stimulus. So, here the conditioned stimulus would slow down or even cancel the excitatory processes.

In other words, inhibitory conditioning occurs when an organism has learned that after the conditioned stimulus the unconditioned does not follow, so it will hardly produce any response. Likewise, in the event that an inhibitory conditioning were to cause a response, this would be a type of response contrary to the excitatory condition.

What's more, inhibitory conditioning is a process in which the unconditioned stimulus (US) is presented only on some trials, and not all, as is often the case in excitatory conditioning. So in the inhibitory, the unconditioned stimulus (US) follows the conditioned stimulus (CS) only in some trials, while that in others the conditioned stimulus (CS) would be followed by another different neutral stimulus (EN), without the conditioned stimulus continuing to appear. unconditioned stimulus (US), so that the conditioned stimulus (CS) will become the signal of absence of the stimulus unconditioned (US).

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Examples of inhibitory conditioning

In everyday life, an inhibitory conditioning process would be one that occurs in a situation in which something is introduced that serves to prevent the outcome that would otherwise occur. For example, when we see a red traffic light for pedestrians when we want to cross the street at a zebra crossing at a busy intersection, we are looking at a traffic signal. excitatory conditioned stimulus of a potential danger (unconditioned stimulus), which could occur if we crossed that street with a red light because we could run over.

On the other hand, if a police officer or a municipal officer tells us that we can cross the zebra crossing without waiting for the traffic light to turn green, since the directions of the agent prevail over the traffic signs, it is quite unlikely that we will have a accident, since it is logical that you have previously instructed the vehicles to stop so that the pedestrians can cross the crossing zebra.

So, here we can state that it is unlikely that the red light of the traffic light (excitatory conditioned stimulus) together with the gestures of the agent (inhibitory conditioned stimulus) could be followed by danger, since the policeman's gestures act as an inhibitory conditioned stimulus, thus managing to block or inhibit our initial refusal to cross the zebra crossing with the pedestrian traffic light red, this then being a case of conditioning inhibitory.

One of the most common procedures to provoke inhibitory conditioning is through the differential procedure, and it is that when one is in the acquisition phase of a certain behavior, excitatory tests are used in conjunction with other inhibitory assays that are presented randomly throughout the experiment.

Thus, in excitatory tests, the conditioned stimulus is systematically followed by the unconditioned stimulus; however, in inhibitory tests, this does not occur.

Another example that could serve to illustrate inhibitory conditioning would be that case in which a child who has a phobia of dogs and fears that they might bite him as a sign of danger (excitatory conditioned stimulus), but when the child is accompanied by his mother (inhibitory conditioned stimulus) he is not afraid that the dog might bite him.

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